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Spray tans a safer option for an end-of-school glow

As soon-to-be graduates prepare for prom and their trip down the auditorium aisle to receive their diplomas, many believe a glowing tan is a must-have accessory. However, the method by which that tan is achieved could mean the difference between bronze skin and a life-threatening disease.

The public is aware that sunburns can be particularly dangerous, but scientific evidence increasingly suggests there's no such thing as a safe tan -- particularly if that tan comes by way of baking in the sun or on a tanning bed.

The World Health Organization's cancer division listed tanning beds as definitive cancer-causers. Research indicates that the risk for melanoma, the most common form of skin cancer, rises as much as 75 percent in people who were frequent tanners in their teenage years and early twenties. The risk from tanning beds is so great that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration had an open hearing to figure out stricter tanning bed regulations and more obvious warning labels on the devices.

For those who still want to have tanned skin but not experience the risk associated with tanning beds or UV exposure, spray tans or sunless tanning creams are good options. These products contain a substance called dihydroxyacetone (DHA). The Mayo Clinic says that DHA reacts with dead cells in the outermost layer of the skin. This temporarily darkens the skin's appearance. While the coloring doesn't wash off, it will gradually fade as the dead skin cells slough off within a few days. Some of these products also contain coloring pigments to help even out the tan and make it visible before the DHA reaches maximum effect. These products are generally safe for most of the body but need to be avoided around mucous membranes and the eyes.

While most of the sunless tanning products are safe, it is not adviseable to take sunless tanning pills. These pills contain a color additive that can turn the skin orange when taken in large quantities. They also may cause liver damage and the formation of crystals in the retina of the eye.

For those considering the sunless tanning route, there are some ways to get an even-looking tan.

* Exfoliate the body with a wash cloth to remove excess dead skin cells that may darken more in contrast to other parts of the skin.

* Use a light touch and go sparingly with the product. For hard-to-reach areas of the body, have someone help you apply it. Many people like professional spray tans at salons because the application method tends to be more even than with lotions and creams.

* Wash hands after applying the product so your palms don't turn color, and pay special attention to your fingernails. Then use a cosmetic sponge or cotton ball to apply the tanner to the top of each hand.

* Use sunblock on the body even while using a self-tanner. These lotions generally don't contain sunscreens, and the tan will provide no protection at all.

* Make sure to wait until the tanner dries completely before you get dressed. Otherwise you can be left with stained clothing.

Graduates who want a sun-kissed look for parties and other end-of-school events should consider sunless tanners instead of sunbathing or tanning beds.